By Peter Hoskin
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I said, about ten days ago, that it’s worth keeping an eye on the politics
of the minimum wage? Well, your acuity will have been rewarded by yesterday’s
edition of Newsnight. According to the programme’s political editor, Allegra
Stratton, the Tory leadership are looking at ways to raise that minimum. One could
be to offer tax breaks to companies that pay above the current level; another
could be to lean on the body that sets the wage; another… oh, you’d be better
off reading her blog-post
for the full list.
this happens, it would be something of a break from recent political history. Back
in 2007, even Gordon Brown was eager to regionalise the minimum wage, so that
it was lower in some areas than in others. That idea – as I’ve reported
before – was subsequently championed by some within the Coalition, along
with more radical options such as suspending the minimum wage for young people.
Their concern was jobs; specifically whether the minimum wage dissuades companies
from hiring. And it’s still a concern that some have now. As Stratton’s post
notes, of the new developments, “this is meeting some resistance inside
government amid fears it may alienate business leaders”.
although it’s a break, it’s hardly a surprising one. The next election, we’re ceaselessly
told, is going to be about the cost of living – and the Tory leadership need a
response to the other parties’ collective push on both the minimum and the
living wage. Besides, there’s an increasing number of Tories calling for the minimum
wage to be strengthened, from David
Skelton to Matt
Hancock. The general atmosphere has changed, even if there are still
pockets of nitrous opposition.
of Stratton’s sources tells her that a minimum wage policy isn’t likely to come
soon, but is rather “a contender for the Tories’ next manifesto” – which make
sense. Not only will that maximise its electoral potential, but it’s probable
that the economy will be in a better state then, which will nullify some of
those concerns about employment. If anything, the fact it’s coming up now
probably reflects one thing above anything else: Downing Street’s growing
optimism about the recovery. Simply put, they’re moving out of a time when even
the minimum seemed too much.